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Interview of the President and First Lady by Barbara Walters of ABC News

December 22, 2011

[Walters' questions were drawn from the late-nineteenth century Proust Questionnaire, a series of personality questions made famous by French author Marcel Proust. They are regularly put to celebrities in interviews featured on the back page of Vanity Fair magazine. The Obamas' responses that follow have been lightly edited for brevity.]

WALTERS: What's the trait you most deplore in yourself, and the trait you most deplore in others?

THE PRESIDENT: Laziness. Nothing frustrates me more than when people aren't doing their jobs. The thing actually that I most dislike is cruelty. I can't stand cruel people. And if I see people doing something mean to somebody else, just to make themselves feel important it really gets me mad. But, with myself, since I tend not to be a mean person, you know, if I get lazy, then I get mad at myself.

THE FIRST LADY: When people are unwilling to compromise. I just think that particularly in a society with big views, big differences, that, you know, the truth is often somewhere right in the middle. And, a lot of times, we don't want to give up anything. And I don't like it when I see that in myself.

WALTERS: On what occasion do you lie?

THE PRESIDENT: Usually, the only time I lie is very personal interactions with family members, who you say, "You look great," and they don't. "Wonderful dress..." Uh, not so much.

THE FIRST LADY: Things where the truth would hurt other people.

THE PRESIDENT: Right, the things where truth would hurt other people. Not too many big things. I said during the campaign that I'll always tell you what I think, and I will, always tell you where I stand. I'm not perfect, but you'll know what I believe.

THE FIRST LADY: I think the same thing. When it would hurt somebody else's feelings. When the truth isn't helpful.

WALTERS: What do you think is the most overrated virtue?

THE PRESIDENT: Security. People naturally resist change in our personal lives. ... Malia, actually, was the one who brought it up because she says, 'You know, one of the things that happens is sometimes transitions are hard, and I really enjoy my life, and I like how things are going.' And I said, 'Get in the habit of being able to embrace change, and what's new. Because you don't want to live your life where, you are held back because you've gotten too comfortable, and you are afraid of what might be out there around the corner.'"

THE FIRST LADY: I take his [answer]. I agree with him.

WALTERS: What's the biggest misconception about you?

THE PRESIDENT: Me being detached, or Spock-like, or very analytical. People who know me know that I am a softie. I mean, stuff can choke me up very easily. The challenge for me is that in this job I think a lot of times the press or how you come off on TV people want you to be very demonstrative in your emotions. And if you're not sort of showing it in a very theatrical way, then somehow it doesn't translate over the screen.

THE FIRST LADY: Someone said that there's a perception out there that I feel confined or trapped in some way. To the extent that people have that perception, that couldn't be further from the truth. I feel very blessed in this role.

WALTERS: What three words would you each use to describe the other?

THE PRESIDENT: Beautiful, smart and funny.

THE FIRST LADY: Smart, sportsman, and father.

WALTERS: Which historical figure do you most admire?

THE PRESIDENT: [Abraham] Lincoln and [Mohandas] Gandhi are the two people, when I think about what they achieved, two very different men. … What I admire most about them is under huge pressure, monumental changes that they brought about but they never lost their moral bearings.

THE FIRST LADY: The first person that comes to mind is Coretta Scott King, because I think she's somebody that I actually had a chance to meet as well, so she's more real to me. Understanding the pressures, and the pain, and the ambiguity of the life she must have lived. And coming out on the other end of that, still hopeful and positive, and pushing for more for herself, for her family, for this nation. It's impressive.

WALTERS: What is your biggest peeve about each other?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't have one.

THE FIRST LADY: My list is too long.

WALTERS: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

THE PRESIDENT: When I feel as if the people closest to me are happy and healthy and I'm connected with them, and when I feel as if I'm doing things that are making other people better and happy, then I feel real good. That's when I'm at my peak.

THE FIRST LADY: Happiness is family — the health of family — just to keep it short. I could go on and on and on, but when my family's good, I'm good.

WALTERS: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

THE FIRST LADY: I'd be more patient. I think I've gotten more patient over the years. I'm constantly working on just being patient with myself and not letting my expectations get ahead of what's happening now.

THE PRESIDENT: I deeply regret not having learned a musical instrument. And I regret not having focused more on Spanish when I was studying it in school. I would love to be able to speak Spanish fluently and play an instrument.

WALTERS: If you were to die and come back as a person as a thing, what would you want it to be?

THE FIRST LADY: I would want to be Bo. He's got a great life. He's got it good. Not a dog. But Bo.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, Barbara, I'm going to take a pass on this one.

Barack Obama, Interview of the President and First Lady by Barbara Walters of ABC News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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